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Photo of Rachel Garson Taylor, M.A., LPC, NCA assistant director of student career advising, serving students in Kellogg Certificate Program for Undergraduates.By Rachel Taylor, NCA Assistant Director, serving students in the Kellogg Certificate Program for Undergraduates.

Welcome to the International Student Career Advice blog series! Each month, NCA will feature a Q&A with current and/or former Northwestern international students about their experiences navigating the U.S. job/internship search process. In this month’s edition, NCA solicited feedback from two former international students now working in the U.S.:

  • Chinese undergraduate in Industrial Engineering and Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences, now working in consulting
  • Turkish undergraduate in Industrial Engineering and Economics now working in financial services

Here are their responses to questions related to preparation for the U.S. based job/internship search:

In your first position after Northwestern, what have you learned about the U.S. work place?

  • Make a friend at work! Building personal connections with colleagues is critical to get up to speed quickly, and to be happy. It takes conscious efforts to go beyond the “transactions” – pure work interactions, emails, and grabbing coffees – and to maintain friendship. Do small things to make yourself useful, organizing team happy hours, community service events, etc. go a long way.
  • I interned both in my home country (Turkey) and in the U.S. U.S. workplace is much more focused and work driven. Everyone pushes you to do your best at any given time.

Please describe any cultural norms that you have observed that are different than your country of origin.

  • Hierarchy exists in the U.S. for sure but is not as rigid as in Asia. Taking initiatives and claiming credit are mostly rewarded, but back-fire in a team-focused culture in the U.S. Gender bias is a very real issue in the U.S. and everywhere else, and you need to be prepared for how different cultural settings may generate and respond to these issues.
  • There is definitely a more intense environment than Turkey. Culturally people are more reserved and sometimes less open to help. They kind of want you to figure it out on your own.

What surprised you most about transitioning from being an international student to a working professional?

  • My accent/English was not a barrier as much as I thought. Perfect English doesn’t guarantee good communication. I have found that proactively seeking immediate feedback after presentations from colleagues also enhanced trust and my personal brand.
  • Actually I was expecting to struggle more with the workload. Northwestern has prepared us well in this manner, I did not have a problem taking on a big workload as the only entry level analyst in my group.

What advice do you have for international students preparing to launch their career?

  • Be strategic about what you develop. My strategy is to extrapolate and build on what made me successful on campus to the top 5%.  My strategy is to extrapolate and build on what made me successful on campus to the top 5%.  By focusing on what you are able to contribute, rather than your weak spots and fears, you will be able to make an make impact and enjoy the work more.
  • Definitely pay attention during the recruitment cycle. Communicate with professionals and try to make your name known during the interview process. You can be really, really good but not end up with a company that has a big name, and that is okay. Try to choose the workplace that will support you and develop you.